Churches Taking Back the Task of Theological Education
Published on 3/13/2012
Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, KY, is developing a training model that Lead Pastor Daniel Montgomery (above) thinks will address the “mutt theology” he sees among aspiring church planters and ministry leaders in the U.S.
“Too many pastors and church planters practice a ‘mutt theology’ of gleaning here and there—a bit of Tim Keller, of Francis Chan, of David Platt, of Mark Driscoll,” Daniel says. “We recognized that one of the things missing in training church leaders is a community of practical and intellectual virtue. Sure there’s a place for the classroom, but learning is best done in residence in the church.”
In 2011, the church launched a one-year “Pastor's School” as part of a residency where potential church planters attend intensive classes and serve as ministry leaders. Pastor's School meets weekly, and the primary teacher is always a Sojourn pastor. The other training components focus on service in the local church. Each student must volunteer at least 5 hours a week in church ministry. The program will soon become a fully accredited, church-based theological education. Until then, Sojourn has negotiated with nearby Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY for 30 hours of Master of Divinity credits to be completed while serving in the church.
Sojourn is applying its model to church planters coming out of its Sojourn Network, and partnering with Southern Seminary to place church planting students in cities where they are called and that are a strong fit for them and their teams—many of which have also been equipped with a theological foundation at Sojourn.
“We want to plug it into a local church,” Daniel says “We made a shift from a teaching model to a training model to a competency model to a placement model. It changes the scorecard—we accept those we can place. It will be the first theological institution that invests up to 3 years in someone and then also places them.”
Sojourn is one example of churches that are hearkening back to the days of early American congregations, where theological education and ministry training were centered in the local church, and seminaries were created to fill in the gaps that churches couldn’t. Now, after decades of denominations taking center stage for developing doctrine and practice, we see an in increasing number of churches that are taking back the responsibility for laying a theological foundation.
What Sojourn is doing represents a rising, innovative trend that takes theological training to the church. Larger, growing churches are becoming hubs of education for people in ministry, and seminaries are partnering with these churches.
“The seminaries need these types of churches because they are doing a lot to support theological education, and you don’t have to move away from the ministry of your church to get theologically trained”, Daniel says.
Sojourn recently launched two church plants with leaders who completed yearlong residencies at a Sojourn Network church. Trent Chambers, who started a Sojourn Woodstock, Woodstock, GA, and Rusty McKie, who planted Sojourn Chattanooga in Chattanooga, TN, were assessed, monitored and mentored by senior leaders during the residency period; both also developed teams of ministry partners who moved with them to their new mission fields.
Above: A group of leaders in discussion at Pastor's School.
“We are confident both of these men are called by God and ready to plant a church and we are eager to walk alongside of them as they begin to plant,” Daniel Montgomery said. “Both our confidence and excitement came as a result of their residencies.”
Rusty McKie came to Louisville in 2007 from his native South Carolina both to attend Southern Seminary, where he earned a Master of Divinity degree, and to work at Sojourn—which he had read about in a book on missional churches. He started from the ground up with parking-lot duty at Sojourn, and then later became a community group leader and eventually a coach for other community group leaders.
“We want to see how he works with the poor, how he works with men, how he works with women, to see the dynamics with his wife and children,” Daniel was quoted as saying by the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper. “It was difficult to determine his [or anyone’s] readiness to start a church based on a three-hour interview.”
Sojourn’s goal is to provide a prototype for the seminary they’ve partnered with and for other schools and churches. Their dream is that potential church planters and ministry leaders could earn anything from a ministry certificate to a Ph.D.—all from a church setting. “Eventually church planting networks have to deal with theological education,” Daniel says. Indeed Sojourn is pioneering new ways to do so.
Warren Bird, Ph.D., research director at Leadership Network, is a former pastor and seminary professor, and is author or co-author of 24 books for ministry leaders, the most recent one with Jim Tomberlin: Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work. Some of Warren’s recent online reports include “The Heartbeat of Rising Influence Churches,” “Pastors Who Are Shaping the Future” and “A New Decade of Megachurches.” Follow him on Twitter @warrenbird.